My memories of ‘You Tiao’ (Chinese; literally ‘oil strips’) are steeped in my childhood in Singapore. Sweet recollections of lazy breakfasts on weekend mornings at the busy hawker centres usually adjacent to the wet markets where mum had just done her food shopping. We were a family who loved our You Tiao. Dad dunks his into a black Kopi-O (almost an Asian-style long black), mum sticks hers into congee, my brother J was equally fascinating to watch as he chews his You Tiao like it was just the best thing in the world alongside his glass of cold soy bean milk which he slurped with relish. And me, I just like to stretch, pull and tear at my oily stick of crispy You Tiao so that I could chuck it piece by piece into my Tau Suan like having crusty bread or croutons with a dense chowder. If there was no time, we’ll have takeaway You Tiao that were wrapped like everything else in those days i.e. in old editions of torn off Yellow Pages which I can’t imagine would be food-grade paper pulp!
Often known also as ‘Chinese Crueller’ it’s probably best described to foreigners as a type of puffed up savoury bread stick that had been deep-fried to golden brown. Crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy inside, the texture is remarkable and perfect for dipping.
In Singapore and Malaysia, we also call it ‘You Zha Gui’ (Hokkien dialect). In Cantonese, it’s known as ‘Yau Char Kwai’. This is one of those deep culinary mysteries that I’m very pleased to have uncovered once again and am thankful that each time I bite into it, it takes me back to the good old days of those precious breakfasts I enjoyed with my family.
If you can’t locate alum powder–you can still whip up a pretty good You Tiao. It’s meant to keep the outer skin of the You Tiao crispy and let it hold on longer to its crisp texture even when exposed to air after frying.
Ingredients for You Tiao:
2 C plain all-purpose flour
10g baking soda
5 g baking powder
300ml warm water (some to dissolve baking powder/baking soda)
1 tsp salt
1 TB sugar
1 TB peanut oil
1/8 tsp alum powder (to make the outer skin crispy)
Directions for Dough:
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add salt, sugar and alum powder.
In a separate smaller bowl, dissolve baking powder, baking soda and alum
using about 3-4 TB of the 300ml warm water. Like a science experiment, it’s fun looking
out for the foaming and bubbling reaction! OK—my kids have a ball at this stage anyway.
Then add the peanut oil to the foamy solution which now becomes an emulsion.
Make a well in the centre of the flour bowl and add the dissolved baking
powder, baking soda, alum and peanut oil emulsion together with the rest
of the warm water. Stir with a spatula or wooden spoon till everything comes
together into a sticky dough.
Kneading & Resting Dough — (repeat a couple of times)
You may need to add more warm water if needed. At this stage the dough should not be dry, but soft and sticky. Knead, squash and fashion it into a big ball in between your hands. Ensure you’re going to have time to wait an hour for the next process of ‘Knead and Rest’ to complete. Leave the ball of dough to stand for about 20 mins by covering the bowl with cling wrap.
You’ll notice the ball of dough begins to take on a different texture after standing time—rather smooth compared to before. You’ll have to repeat this step up to 3 times for best results. Knead, let dough rest for 20 min. Knead, let dough rest for 20 min. Knead again and rest for the last 20 min of the hour. Throughout these tedious stages of kneading and resting, you should notice air bubbles forming on the dough and popping as you knead further. The more bubbles will mean that your dough is well-rested and is beginning to puff up, and those will become the bubbles that puff up your You Tiao beautifully at the deep-frying stage.
Roll out the dough further to a thickness of about 1 cm or 1/2 inch. Coat the surface of the dough in more peanut oil till it looks shiny and oily. Then cover the dough with cling wrap again to prevent drying and what we need, unbelievable I know—but more resting (yes great-tasting You Tiao takes immense patience and hard work like everything else?) is needed—in fact about at least 3-4 hours. I let mine rest for up to 4, not more.
Now the fun part—roll out the dough into a thickness of about half a cm and about 3 inches wide. Then slice them into long strips lengthwise about 8-10cm (3-4 inches), and each strip into 2.5 cm wide (1 inch) bands. Dip a wooden skewer in water to wet it , then press down on the bands of dough lengthwise. Stack them on top of one another in pairs and press the stacked pairs of dough lengthwise again to seal them together.
Fill a wok with about 2 inches deep of peanut oil and heat to 180℃/360℉.
Lower heat slightly. Stretch out a band of dough to ‘double its length’ then
drop it slowly into the hot oil. Using chopsticks or a pair of tongs, lift up the
golden brown fried dough stick and drain on paper towels. It’s amazing, I know. Your own
homemade You Tiao. Be proud and enjoy it with some soy bean curd, Tau Suan, congee or like I love to do–dunk it in some Asian-style ‘kopitiam’ coffee!
Click here for my Tau Suan recipe